Tuition tussle

Friday, February 27, 2004

It's easy to understand why parents of college-age students would be in favor of a plan that locked in tuition and fees so that the annual cost would be the same in the senior year of college as it was in the freshman year.

And it's easy to understand why officials at Missouri's 13 state funded colleges and universities would oppose such a plan.

The idea sounds like a marketing dream: Guarantee a new college freshman that his tuition and fees won't increase for the next four years.

But the cost of providing that education is increasing rapidly. Without enough revenue to pay the bills, colleges and universities would face severe cutbacks in order to honor the locked-in tuition pledge.

Or, incoming freshmen would be socked with huge tuition increases to offset the locked-in rates already in place for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Moreover, the locked-in tuition plan proposed in a bill offered by state Sen. Harold Caskey fails to take into account that more and more students aren't likely to get their degrees in just four years. Locking in tuition for an open-ended period of time wouldn't be practical.

The bigger issue facing higher education in Missouri is how much of the burden should be borne by students and how much by state funding.

In the last four school years, increases in tuition at Missouri's state-funded colleges and universities have gone up as much as 59.3 percent (at Missouri Southern State College in Joplin) while state funding has declined.

The lowest tuition increase was 28.1 percent (at Truman State University in Kirksville). Southeast Missouri State University had the third-lowest increase: 35 percent.

A college education and graduate degrees are important to the wage-earning potential of today's student-age Missourians. State schools have historically provided high-quality education at an affordable price.

Cutting state funding and increasing the burden on students could have a long-term negative impact on the state's economy, both by loading up students with heavy college debt and by keeping some students from pursuing a college education.

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